Tuesday, January 6, 2015

December 2014: I did it. Also: the year in review.

Around a year ago, I saw a lot of people posting/bragging about their annual mileage, and it got me wondering how far I actually ran in any given year.  I’d never kept track, even though I’ve been running (albeit, not to this degree) since I was 14.  So I decided to give it a try.  No pressure.  I wasn’t trying to meet a goal or anything.  But at the same time, I found myself thinking, there’s no possible way I could run less than 1200, even if I break a leg.  And beyond that, it’ll probably end up more like 1500, unless something really terrible happens.

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Of course, there actually were a lot of kind of terrible things going on at the time.  I had lost/quit my job.  We were planning on trying to sell our house and move across the country.  My sister was moving to Ireland.  And the biggest terrible thing: my dad had been diagnosed with a brain tumor and surgery was imminent.  

Running was the only thing I could count on, and then, the stress fracture/tendon injury.

 

If I’d known early on how serious it was, and more importantly, handled it better, I likely would have ended up with a shorter recovery time overall.  But as it was, I kept thinking, it will go away if I rest a couple of days and try running again.  Re-aggravate and repeat.  

Before I knew it, three months were gone.  Then four.  A con artist and two millionaires had tried to buy our house, all of them by creating the Worst Possible Scenario for us (at least one of the millionaires was actually worse than the con artist) and causing me to have two complete nervous breakdowns.  On the bright side, my dad was healing beautifully from his brain surgery.

But still, the nagging pain in my tibia lingered and lingered.

We cut our losses and drove west until we got to the mountains.

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I could breathe easier, for the first time in my life.  And just like that, after nearly 5 months of battling this injury, my tibia no longer hurt.

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I picked up right where I left off.  This time, with KT tape.

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Things were going well, until I ran 200 miles in July (not the wisest recovery plan) and then pushed myself into oblivion during an 11-day research project in Nicaragua.

I was in pain and almost back to square one with the tibia.  It looked like the 50 miler I’d signed up for at the end of September was out of the question.

I ran it anyway.

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I can’t explain it, but my leg felt fine for the entire run.  No regrets.

I followed that up with a 50K in Boulder just two weeks later (where I sort of came in first place in the women’s division, although there was only one other female participant, and I think she got lost).

I ended up a little worse for the wear, but managed to avoid serious injury.  The remainder of October and much of November, I finally took a much needed rest.

By Thanksgiving, I was feeling fairly strong again and realizing how tantalizingly close 1500 was.  Even though I’d battled an injury for nearly half the year, I could still make it… if I ran 172 miles in December.

It was a stupid idea from the outset, because the trial-and-error of the preceding months had shown me that 150 was about the most I could manage without my tibia falling apart.  I should have played it safe and not risked carrying this injury into 2015, but there was an overwhelming part of me that screamed aloud, But what if I could?

Meli at Grayrock

I decided to go for it.  I promised myself that at the first sign of any pain in my tibia, I would call it quits.

I piled on the miles.  Early morning, every one of them.  The first hour was almost entirely in the dark.  It was cold and lonely, but I got to see the sunrise every day.

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My calf started hurting during the first week or two, and that was the point at which I should have stopped.  I tried to stave off serious injury by using Rob’s new million dollar R8 Roll Recovery massage roller.  This actually made things worse, and I could barely walk for a few days.  I kept stretching and managed to recover even as I continued to run.

After that, everything was fine.  I ran a 44 mile week and then a 46 mile week.  I was exhausted but at the same time felt stronger and stronger.  It was like I was in a stage race, just with very short stages.  Every day, there was The Run, and then there were these subsequent, seemingly brief, foggy interludes of Not Running before I would grab at a few hours of sleep and begin the whole thing over again.  My footsteps in the darkness.  Cold.  The stars and the moon.  Christmas lights.  Reminding myself that soon the sun would rise.

I began to feel that I was held together mostly by air.  My back hurt and I couldn’t sleep.  This kind of thing happens to me during intense training for ultras, but I hadn’t expected it to hit so hard when my mileage was below 50 miles per week.

Oh right, and then, the hunger.

It turned out pretty nice to have this mileage push coincide with the holidays.  Food, everywhere.  I ate constantly and yet, was still skinny in my skinny jeans. 

Ravenous and with an aching back, it started to look like I might actually pull this off.  It would require some creativity to keep this pace throughout our epic trip back to the midwest for Christmas, but I’d managed to bank enough miles that I could afford to take a couple of days off as we drove east for what seemed like forever.

Driving Rob's car

We visited Rob’s family first—only 7 miles away from the Illinois/Indiana border.  Naturally, we ran to the state line (and a little bit beyond).

State line

 

Our next stop was my family, where I ran the “Big Hill” by my parents’ house three times (laughing throughout) and then went to the Rock Island Trail, where I ran the fastest 10 miles I’ve run since… well, we moved to Colorado .

 

The final obstacle I faced in this endeavor was when I made an improper sock decision (possibly during our Indiana run) that left me with a gigantic blister on my toe, which then became a gigantic and painful flesh wound.  I could barely put a shoe on, much less run.  I wondered if this whole thing would fall apart because of a blister, but I ended up taking just one day off and then powering through.  

By the time we left Illinois for our epic 14-hour drive home, I was only 10 miles short of my 172 mile goal, and there were still 4 more days in December.  

There was already something like 8 inches of snow on the ground at home in Colorado (I almost got stuck at an unplowed 4-way stop in our neighborhood, and we had to shovel our driveway before we could even pull in), and the weather was supposed to get worse in the next few days.  I finished out the year during a snowstorm on December 29th.  It was 14 degrees and windy.  It should have felt ugly, but instead it just felt beautiful.

 

I did it.

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The sense of accomplishment and disbelief felt kind of like that time I got an NSF grant to do my dissertation research. Kind of, but not really.

I made a really hideous gif of the super non-technical way I counted down the mileage:

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And now, 2015. I'm beginning it with a bit of a rest. In part because I do feel sort of beaten down (i.e., exhausted) from December's push, and also in part because we have had so much snow, ice, and below zero temperatures that logging lots of miles was not super feasible.  I haven't set any real goals for this year, but I'd like to see if I could run more than 1500. Which I should be able to do, unless something really terrible happens.

So I guess I’ll keep recording my miles and see where 2015 takes me.  Hopefully some more trails, a lot more hills, and at least one 50-miler.  Maybe something even farther than that?  Just no more injuries or real estate crises.  Plenty of sunrises and blue skies.

Grateful for a life that lets me do this.  Thanks for reading.

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3 comments:

Anonymous said...

HOLEY moley!! I,am exhausted just reading this!!! what an amazing feat(feet)!!!! To,have done!! Wonder WHERE in the world you get your bullheadedness!! hmmmmmm! Maybe YOU could just run for,the "O I DON'T KNOW? "maybe for,the FUN of it, with NO set goals to stress over?? but then that isn't a part of your vocabulary !! May 2015 be a much better year for you ,with lots more CALM!!! breathe in the fresh mountain air!!unlike Nebraska,😝and try to unwind!! Teaching again will create its own set of issues, so try to take it slowly!! Keep in mind you already have LOGGED more miles than most people !! Smile. Enjoy and stay calm! LUV you. Miss you ,hurry back πŸ‘‹ ️mama

realrellim said...

I've been following you on Twitter but hadn't realized you blog too. (One of these days I'll get back to mine. Maybe tomorrow. Or next week!) Apparently we're similar in many ways: the running, the Illinois roots (I'm from Chicago's far south/southwest suburbs -- an area that is still more farmland than not in the I-80/I-57 area). The 9 months of hyperemesis--yeah, did that. Twice. The Ph.D. (musicology). I lived in Fort Collins for a while too, back in the late '90s while I got my master's degree there. Wasn't a runner then, but I loved hiking Greyrock and biking along the Poudre. Anyhow, very cool. I'll be sure to keep reading now!

Melissa said...

Thanks for the comment, Realrellim!! I've never known another Illinoisan/Coloradan/runner/PhD/mother/HG survivor before! :)